Kyle Chalmers needs time out of the pool to find himself
The first thing Chalmers needs to know is: that’s fine. And in swimming, unfortunately, almost a new normal. His arch-rival and friend Dressel has been open about his mental health issues, speaking out about it ahead of Tokyo, then stepping down just days after the recent FINA World Championships.
The Olympics were a turning point for athletes struggling with overwhelming pressure and expectations. Simone Biles, one of the faces of the US Games team, has retired from competition to focus on her mental health. Swimming winning machine Katie Ledecky showed rare glimpses of emotion as the toll she was carrying became clear.
Chalmers need look no further than the face on the other side of Channel Seven’s microphone to remember how swimming can crush even the brightest souls. Cate Campbell, poolside for the Birmingham broadcaster, revealed her own battle with depression late last year after being diagnosed four weeks before the Tokyo Games.
The whole scenario raises questions about the treatment of athletes, especially those who float in and out of the spotlight and don’t have the scaffolding of support in place like those in the protective bubble of a wealthy soccer team or of cricket.
Professionals need to have a certain degree of resilience to withstand the occasional media storm or a series of solid questions. But it wasn’t just Chalmers who felt the line had been crossed when he spent his entire post-race interview talking not about a gold medal or a Games record, but allegations of petulance and division.
It may be difficult for him to see through the current haze, but his lowest moment also presents a golden opportunity. Having been bold enough to call out what he considered inappropriate and inaccurate coverage, Chalmers now has the opportunity to step back, reconnect with the important people in his life and reflect on what he wants from the sport, the where appropriate, and how to engage with those within its wider ecosystem.
What’s obvious is that he could do with fresh eyes when it comes to regaining control of his own narrative, because it’s a good narrative, potentially with a great legacy, and one that deserves to be shared. to be told. If that means picking his battles more carefully and having more discipline around his prolific output on social media, he needs to be open to those conversations.
But first, he shouldn’t be afraid to step back and, if necessary, withdraw completely for an extended period. Travel the world, learn to play the drums, feed the snakes…all worthwhile adventures if they lead him to find his self-esteem and purpose beyond a set of Speedos.
Once he does, like so many others have done before, he will return to the pool with renewed vigor, drive and love for water. What he defines as success, as a person and an athlete, will go a long way in determining what type of man emerges on the other side.
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